Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My favorite maps, updated

I began hiking in a pre-internet/smart phone world. My first advisor was a book (the Bay Area Ridge Trail guide) and I was delighted with it, but soon I wanted a bigger picture for the most trail-dense parts of the Bay Area. At an outdoor store I found what I was looking for, a series of three maps produced by The Olmsted & Bros. Map Company of Berkeley.

Two maps covered much of the east bay -- Trails of the East Bay Hills, Northern and Central Sections. The third, and soon my favorite map of all, was A Rambler's Guide to the Trails of Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods, and the Marin Headlands.

At the time no other maps had the scale or detail of the Olmsted maps; no maps since possess their charm and quirkiness. Everything that hikers needed was printed on those maps (cartography, mileage, shaded relief) plus more, including opinionated descriptions of the destinations. The Tam map was packed with historical information and contained the most heart-warming guarantee ever: "If you're lost out in the woods, please note that my phone number is on the map. Just call me up. Good rambling! Jerry Olmsted." I did call him once, circa 1997, after I returned home from without a doubt the loneliest hike ever: a tramp on the County Feeder #1 Trail north of Briones Regional Park. I don't think anyone had been on that trail for some time and I was never sure I was on the trail. I only found it in the first place by wandering onto a nearby farm and getting directions from a dubious rancher. Mr. Olmsted knew exactly what I was talking about and said he would make some phone calls to get better signage. He was every bit as sharp, precise, and friendly as his maps. Mr. Olmsted died in 2012. His maps are some of my most precious hiking-related possessions.

Happily, the maps did not end with Mr. Olmsted. Two talented local cartographers have revived them: one literally, one in spirit.

Ben Pease, one of my "new" favorite cartographers (disclosure: I have exchanged chatty emails with him for years and consider him one of the best sources for Bay Area trail info), took on the Tam/Headlands map. And David Baselt (disclosure: Dave is another awesome source for maps; he sent me a batch of his latest maps for free; I would happily pay for them and this review is unbiased) has produced new East Bay trail maps. (Note: both gentleman are fantastic cartographers -- check out their websites for more local maps and other projects.)

The new Tam map features trails "redrawn using GIS art and wheel-and-compass mapping." Trails are color-coded so that it's easy to see at a glance which paths are hiking-only or multi-use. Small local streets that offer trailhead access have been labeled, a particularly helpful feature for an area where cell signals are often weak. The coverage area is slightly larger, extending north to terminate at Woodacre. Otherwise, it's the same sweet map, updated for a new generation of hikers.

Dave Baselt has put forth two East Bay maps that fill the void of the now out of print Olmsted publications: Carquinez Strait and Berkeley Hills and Oakland Hills and Pleasanton Ridge. These two maps cover nearly the entire East Bay, from Vallejo to Fremont, from most of Oakland stretching east a bit past Dublin. The maps are quite different from the Olmsted maps, but are a pleasure to read and use. All major and most minor roads are labeled, trailhead parking is obvious, scenic views and even memorial benches are shown. My favorite feature is the indication of steps -- not only does Baselt reveal the number of steps, he also marks the direction they travel. I am thankful he took the trouble to count the steps on, say, Lost Trail (on his Muir Woods map), where I find myself fuming and panting about 10 minutes up the 255 steps on that wonderful Muir Woods Trail (I think it's the set of 81 that does me in).

One solitary bone of contention for the new maps: although they are printed on nice heavy paper, I would greatly appreciate waterproof, tear-resistant paper. I am hard on my maps and don't like it when they tear.

Hikers, you need these maps! Click through to David's and Ben's websites to order or find a local retailer.

Happy rambling!